Review: The Dinner Sanctum
With bold, classic dishes, Old Soul serves up surprises from an unlikely location
Old Soul is an unexpected gem of a restaurant hidden away in the World Market Center, the steel and glass warren of exhibition spaces next to Symphony Park. You’re not quite sure if you’ve parked in the right place or if you’re walking to the right building until you see the restaurant’s logo in the window, an inky blue sparrow that mirrors the tattoos on Chef Natalie Young’s hands. You’re rewarded with a sense of discovery: Entering Old Soul is like wandering into a secret corner of the towering complex, revealing a softly lit chamber draped in deep blue velvet curtains. Chef Natalie, of Eat and Chow fame, has filled it with carefully curated vintage pieces. The well-worn wooden furniture, decor, and china recall a bygone era.
Don’t be mistaken, though. Old Soul, as the staff explains, is not a speakeasy. Instead, they’re inspired by pre-Prohibition themes and flavors, from the turn of the 20th century when gin, bourbon, and whiskey were plentiful and popular, before speakeasies were even needed at all. When ordering drinks, you’ll notice that the cocktail section is divided into two parts. One (“the vault”), features historic cocktails and includes classics like the Sazerac and the Corpse Reviver #2. The other (“the bankroll”) is a selection of the bar manager’s originals, with drinks like “flapper girl” and “Volstead Act” making nods to the era that inspired them. Not to miss: The Ramos gin fizz, cloud-like and frothy, and the Duke Ellington, a smoky, coffee-infused cognac-based drink. (My only quibble: the floating coffee beans, an awkward and unnecessary garnish.)
The menu is organized to encourage sharing, and each place setting comes with its own charming vintage side plate (mine had pink morning glories with a gold finish). Starters like the fried oysters and pickled eggs recall pre-Prohibition bar snacks, and trace their origins to the 1860s, when bars in New Orleans began to serve free lunches. Mains here do not include sides, but they compensate with generous portions: Think of it more like Sunday supper at grandma’s, where the dishes come out with serving spoons and you’ll pass to your left, please. While the New York steak and the whole grilled branzino are menu mainstays, don’t overlook the easy comfort of the braised short rib risotto, and the surprisingly flavorful meatloaf. “Not your mama’s meatloaf!” our server joked, and she was right. This one comes with a cauliflower purée and is drizzled with a red wine jus. It’s a punchier, classier version of a dish that’s usually treated as an afterthought.
For sides, the creole street corn was a sweet corn, perfectly seasoned and not (as I’d imagined) served on the cob, a fine example of the elevated home cooking theme running throughout. Perhaps the only disappointment of the evening was the braised collard greens with jalapeño vinegar, served without a hint of heat, nor any flavor or fat from the ham to balance the bitter. For dessert, we opted for the peach cobbler, which would have benefited from a little more time in the oven to give it a toasty golden crumble. Still, it was a satisfying ending to the meal — not overly sweet like too many cobblers are.
Meatloaf with red wine jus
But now, days later, the dish I can’t stop thinking about was an appetizer, a plate of smoked trout with house-made apple sauce, crème fraiche, mixed fresh spring herbs, paired with plush, tender corn cakes, a clever twist on the blini. Each bite, mixed and matched with trout and fixings in whatever combinations you like, was a balanced blend of savory and sweet — a cousin to chicken and waffles, or bacon and pancakes.
For all of the restaurant’s aesthetic of timeworn elegance, Old Soul is still new: On a recent weekday evening, my dining companion and I were the only ones there. (Weekends are busier with The Smith Center crowd). It’s a challenging location; Old Soul occupies the space left vacant by Mundo when it closed in 2015. That said, perhaps this is just what the gleaming, glassy World Market Center complex needs: a touch of unpretentious elegance, earthiness, and warmth.
495 S. Grand Central Parkway,
Building A #116
Hours: Mon-Fri 12-9p, Sat 4-9p